A second laboured performance in four day’s left no one in doubt, Liverpool have failed to impress and are in danger of under-performing ahead of the upcoming season!
The Premier League champions were stunned in the opening 15 minutes by RB Salzburg on Tuesday, conceding twice to Pascal Daka’s brace and only secured a draw thanks to a double of theirs from youngster Rhian Brewster.
Fast forward to four days later and the Reds yet again put up another uninspiring performance in an eventual penalty shootout FA Community Shield loss to Arsenal and it begs the question, are we going to witness a Liverpool meltdown this season?
The signs and dangers had always been there from last season, beginning post the newly introduced mid-season break (the West Ham and Watford games coming to mind) and things got more interesting on the day they lifted an historic first-ever Premier League title, briefly suffering a second-half slum which was overlooked against Chelsea.
All thoughts of a decline might briefly have been forgotten with a pre-season friendly victory against VfB Stuttgart, but reality soon set-in again a few days later with the RB Salzburg scare.
Liverpool looked very ordinary and predictable against Arsenal, as they failed to dominate any area of the pitch, the fear factor missing with Mohamed Salah the worst culprit, a carryover of his form from the midweek Salzburg draw.
They tried unsuccessfully to play a high backline, as the Gunners quickly closed them down and on one occasion Virgil Van Dijk perhaps still living in his glory from the past seasons was lackadaisical in possession and was nearly beaten to the ball by the rampaging Eddie Nketiah inside the Liverpool box.
Further up the field, the Reds moved the ball around in midfield without any real penetration as they struggled to break down the two-man Mohamed Elneny-Granit Xhaka pivot combination and when they did manage to find the forward trio, either the pass, control or movement let them down, often ensuring the move broke down.
This led to countless turnovers which turned into fast Arsenal counterattacks with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had a filled day against right-back Neco Williams often the likely outlet for the breaks.
So what can be done to restore Liverpool’s near invincibility after three seasons of playing some of Europe’s best football? The obvious solution could be freshening and improving a squad that has retained almost the same personnel, identity and pattern in the last three years.
Recent signings Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri have both failed to make the team more competitive, while January arrival Takumi Minamino is only gradually finding his feet and by opening his goal account and converting in the penalty shootout against the Gunners, he could gradually improve his confidence, relevance and perhaps occupy a more central position behind the main striker in a number 10 role, a reinvention in Jurgen Klopp’s system.
Klopp must also as a matter of urgency integrate talented young forward Brewster, the Reds’ pre-season top goalscorer and any other potent striking option as an accumulation and intensity of games in recent years could hinder the tried, tested and trusted front trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah from hitting top marks this campaign as they appear to have been figured out by opponents.
There is also the need to replace the departed Dejan Lovren in defence to give competition to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, while the exit of Adam Lallana, James Milner’s aging legs (turns 35 in January), Jordan Henderson’s recent injury struggles could mean Thiago Alcantara’s precise midfield passes is needed now more than ever, hence the management should go all out to sign the Bayern Munich star.
Failure to address these worrying signs could lead to a disastrous campaign, similar to Chelsea’s 2015/16 season where everything went downhill for the then-reigning Premier League champions.
Klopp must realise it’s hard to stay at the top of the pyramid when everyone is focused on knocking you off and an effective alternate plan could be key if Liverpool are to come anywhere close to replicating the trophy laden successes of the past two seasons.